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Sculptural reproduction (an introduction to the stitchingmachine)

There are several techniques used for sculptural reproduction.  In this article we will mention some of them until we reach the one that interests us in a particular way: the one carried out using the point marking machine.

 Since the beginning of sculptural art, the artist has had to solve the question of the precision of proportions in one of the basic aspects of sculpture: volume.  Just as in the drawing, a kind of grid is used that can be enlarged according to the scale you want to use or have the fidelity of sizes and proportions with respect to a model;  in sculptural art a system of points has been adopted that functions as references for the passage from a model to a copy.  There have been several instruments or tools with which the artist has served to perfect this method.  From the plumb lines, the compass or the squares, going through the one called “cages”, we come to one that, due to the benefits in its use and practicality, will occupy us: the pointing machine.

Sculptural reproduction methods

  1.  The tub of water 

This is one of the first methods in sculptural reproduction, and it consisted of immersing the piece in a container with water and, little by little, draining a little of the liquid in order to see the most salient parts of the piece and pass them on to  the surface being worked on.

  1. Grids 

The Egyptians drew on the stones to work a grid in the style of that used in two-dimensional art, in which the points of a model were located.  This grid was drawn on all faces of the block in order to have all the views of the original piece.

  1. The plumb line

 Employed by the sculptors of ancient Greece, this indirect method of working the sculptural pieces consisted of taking reference points with the help of a plumb line that allowed them to be oriented according to the verticals, horizontals and some graduations that helped to locate determining areas in the piece to be worked.

  1. Definitor

This method named after its creator, Leon Battista Alberti, painter, sculptor and thinker from Renaissance Italy, used a circle with a pair of plumbs method that was located at the top of both the figure to be reproduced and the original,  and that thus allowed to determine some points used as a reference for the sculptural carving.

  1. Three Calipers 

In this method, three measures are used in a coordinated way in order to establish distances and fix points to make reproductions of pieces.

F. Cage 

This legacy of Leonardo Da Vinci works with the idea of ​​the reticle but in the three-dimensional and allows the necessary variations to be made not only in reproductions but also in the case of sculptural enlargements or reductions.


This method, also used in two-dimensional works, including in the drawing of architectural plans, has two parallel arms that move at the same time, one on the original and the other on the copy, and allows locating reference points according to volume and  depth in the model and then be passed to the copy.

H The pointing machine

 to draw points or point meter and we come to the method and tool that interests us in this article.  This machine began to be used in the 19th century, and the French sculptor and medalist Nicolas-Marie Gatteaux and the British sculptor John Bacon are considered to be its creators.  Later it will be Antonio Canova, painter and sculptor of Italian neoclassicism who will perfect it.  With this new method, a simpler and more faithful copying of the original is achieved with a system of points that the sculptor artist takes in the original piece and then transfers it to the copy.

The pointing machine, a great help for the sculptor

The point machine consists of a kind of crosspiece or frame with three points that account for the height, width and depth of the piece to be copied.  An arm is mounted on the frame that has two joints (each one with a system of wing screws that allow the rods to be adjusted according to the measurements required), which allow reaching any point that you want to use as a reference for  carving work on stone or wood.  These rods, as already mentioned, by fixing a stop, determine the depth at which the point is located.  The sharp point at the end of the rod is in charge of taking the measurement and fixing the place the exact place of the point that the sculptor has to mark.

 This method implies that the more points are marked, the greater the fidelity of the copy on the model will be, since in this summation the increasingly exact totality of the sculpture will be configured.

 According to the route we have taken through the different methods of sculptural reproduction, we can realize that the pointing machine gathers in itself many of the operational and methodical principles of the three bars and the pantograph, with the advantage that:  By having greater control and more freedom over the points that are chosen to form the original reproduction map, there is a greater possibility of adding, in this process, the particularities and features of the artist who performs on the work.

  Each artist will set as many points as necessary for him.  At this time it is worth mentioning that some of Rodin’s sculptural pieces, known for leaving to his apprentices the responsibility of grinding off the excess material from marble in search of the model he provided in materials more related to it such as clay, retain the traces of  passage of the machine to draw points on its surface, as well as marks on the bit or compass.  

This shows us that the sculptor really uses various tools and resources, and that it is precisely in his creative capacity and his knowledge of tools and techniques that he succeeds in achieving mastery in his artistic and sculptural works.

It is also worth mentioning that the pointing machine –inspired by the human anatomy of the arm, from the shoulder to the hand, with its parts and joints–, becomes a third member for the sculptor that allows him to get where he is alone.  His gaze comes and helps him to keep a record that could not be left alone in the annals of the memory of the sculptural and architectural artist.

A little about How to make the model

The pieces that the sculptor uses as models for his carving in stone or wood can be made of different materials such as plaster, clay, styrofoam, wood, and even models can be made from canvases impregnated in a solution of  wood and water colbon, and achieve very faithful and real effects of drapes and of the fall of the fabrics.  This may be a topic to share in another article and thus know materials and properties and uses of each of them.

 Many of the great sculptural artists in the history of art took advantage of the possibilities offered by the different methods of reproduction of pieces to implement in their workshops a practically “serial” work that was possible with the help of the disciples or apprentices who came to  their workshops.  Cases recognized as that of Canova himself who, during the most splendid time of his workshop and the consolidation of his prestige as a sculptor, had a group of disciples who were in charge, helped by the machine to take out points, to extract from the  pieces of marble that are thick and then leave to him the final phase of the carving process, the treatment of the surface of the stone that is nothing other than the tangible signature of the author and that, in the case of the Italian sculptor, can be appreciated  in the polishing of marble to achieve that silkiness on the surface, which is the highest and most appreciated aesthetic experience in his work;  or the case of Rodin, mentioned in previous lines, who did not have a particular fondness for the hardness of materials and preferred the ductility of clay to create his sculptures.

How To Take Measurements  with The Pointing  Machine

After having our model to copy and having the material on which we are going to make the reproduction, the most important thing is to fix the three base points very well (remember that they are height, width and depth), and that these points are determined  thanks to the support structure that is made up of two bars, one horizontal and one vertical;  It should be noted that these three points must be fixed since they become the main references to guarantee the accuracy of the copy on the model by means of the moving part that constitutes the arm of the machine to take out points.  It is very important to ensure that the dot machine is well secured on both the model and the copy in order to certify that the measurements taken are accurate.

 After this, and with the help of squares and rulers, these exact points are found in the stone or wood to be carved.  Once enough points have been marked according to what the sculptor needs to carry out his carving, then he can distinguish a point that is selected as the starting point (for example, the nose).  Note how this principle of selection of said point can be largely determined by that principle stipulated by the first known method of sculptural enlargement and reproduction that we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter “The tub of water”.  If we enter directly into the logic to which we must adjust our way of conceiving volume in the sculptural process of carving;  we must cultivate in our brain the principle of the subtraction of matter, and then we will enter the world of discerning in the model those points that are furthest from the center of matter and that these points will be those that stand out more in space than  go around the piece.

 To explain a little how the points are transferred, we can locate in our mind some memory of when, perhaps more common in our childhood, we traced a drawing or some figure that we liked or that we had left as part of a duty or task.  In that case, we were looking for a special point, we generally applied the aforementioned principle that it should be some outstanding section of the silhouette of the drawing, and from there the journey of our pencil began to get the exact copy of the model.  At that time, we had to make sure not to move the tracing paper or butter because we would lose the fidelity of our work.  In the same way it happens with the machine to remove points.  We must fix the frame to the piece very well so that we do not lose the reference frame of our model.  Then, and with the help of the screws that each of the sections of “our third arm” has, we will fix the exact measurement;  that is, our three-dimensional trace.  These screws are normally in the “thumbscrew” class, which contributes to greater control of the securing of moving parts.

How to start transfering  the model to the block of wood or stone

Once this is done, the pointing machine must be carefully moved to remove points from the selected material block, and with the help of specific tools according to the chosen material (for example, in the case of stone carving, carbide chisels are available  or metal, generally steel or alloys).  As the extraction of the excess material is carried out, special care must be taken to mark the reference point, because it becomes a guide and one more point of all those that constitute the kind of network in which they become so much.  the model as the copy.  Some sculptors choose to make three lines that converge at this point, as this keeps some guidance in the lines drawn and this allows them to quickly recover the point that may have been lost when removing material.  The work is very careful and it must be corroborated all the time the amount of material extracted with respect to the model, as well as marking with the pencil the point in which one works.  It is important to remember that the order of work will be in accordance with the more accentuated volumes of the piece (for example, nose, hair, crown, headdress, wings, limbs, among others), along with special observation and care in  the depths (depressions) of the piece on which it is carved.

 Little by little, as the essential features of the model emerge from the piece, the number of points on the surface increases.  The sculptor artist helps himself at this stage with the chisels, pointers and his pencil, as he passes the machine to draw points from one piece to another, with great care and without forgetting to fix it very well to the piece.

 Another important point to consider is that a distance of about two or three centimeters must be left as an “advantage” of the material for the finishing and final polishing phase.

 After the sculpture has already been sketched and all the excess material has been removed, the detail work will come and in which the artist will be able to unleash all his mastery and skill in sculptural carving and in the stylistic features that will distinguish  the final piece.

The advantages of the  Pointing machine to draw points

After these clarifications about the pointing machine, it can be said that, as a tool for wood and stone carving, it becomes an ally of the sculptor, since it facilitates the work of model reproduction, offering a high  performance when several reproductions are involved, because all the anatomical problems, of proportion, of space have already been solved.

 Some people conceive of the use of the pointing machine as a kind of “deception” in the mastery of reproducing an original model, but I, with the experience I have of more than twenty years of sculptural work and with the firm conviction that  the evolutions that the methods of sculptural reproduction have brought through the history of humanity and art are to enrich the artist’s work and to contribute to the consolidation of his personal style, I consider that what the removal machine comes to do  points is to help the sculptural and architectural carver to achieve their pieces with a reduction in the possibilities of error and with the gain in terms of time and effort to achieve the expected result.  In addition, as a tool, it does not affect the talent, skill and style of whoever creates the work;  Simply put, it is an ally that allows you to optimize and make the most of all your talent and expertise.

Final Notes 

The point removal machine, also known as a pointometer, is one of the tools used by sculptors around the world.  The method with which she works is based on a kind of mixture of previous methods in which the most protruding points of the model, the proportions and the depths were determined, to transfer them to the block, either of stone or of wood.  With the support of the work and expertise of Italian artists and sculptors, this tool was able to see the light and, since the 19th century, has accompanied artistic work in the workshops of sculptural and architectural carvers.  With detractors and defenders (who do not have it), the point removal machine becomes a good ally when it comes to accurately reproducing pieces or models, respecting the expression and finishes of each sculptural artist.